Archive for November, 2015

englishHistory

This is sort of unrelated to my normal speculative fiction reviews, but I had to post about Great Tales from English History because, well, a lot of fantasy involves early English history, and I think Fantasy readers would enjoy the book 🙂 Also, even though the collection is almost more like a fun, episodic version of early English history than a book of tales, the chapters often involve mythological elements.

About: Lacey lays out short, informative tales from c. 7150 BC all the way up to AD 1381 in this first of three volumes. Every story is packed with detail and carefully presented to be interesting and inspiring for the casual reader (like me!).

My Favorite Parts: (1) Lacey describes each ruler’s personality in such a way that I’ll be able to remember them when I run across their names again, in other readings. (2) It’s a great volume to read alongside a more expansive book of history. I hadn’t been planning on supplementing the book with another, when I started it; but it was so interesting, I couldn’t help looking up more on several topics! (3) Lacey encourages readers to seek out primary documents to truly understand the past. It’s good advice.

This isn’t a history book; but it covers a lot of history in its various tales, and a casual reader can’t come away from it without a greater grasp of early English history.

Recommendation: This short book of tales is fluid and engaging enough for young adults, and maybe even children. Not to mention, ahem, adults. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! Particularly for new writers wanting to write high fantasy in a European middle ages-like setting.

*****5/5 STARS

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About: On holiday in Cornwall, the three Drew siblings discover an ancient treasure map. But as they decipher the clues, they find  that they aren’t the only ones looking for King Arthur’s treasure… Classic Children’s Fantasy. First in The Dark is Rising sequence. Published 1965.

A gripping tale for child and young adult alike. I wish I had read this when I was younger because I would have loved it then. (As it was, still made for great bedtime reading!) It will appeal quite a bit to young fans of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries. Seriously, doesn’t every kid dream of finding an ancient treasure?

What I Liked: (1) The book has an “old-fashioned” period charm that feels nostalgic, today, similar to what can be found in some of Madeleine L’Engle’s and Elizabeth Enright’s books. It’s really a treat. I mean, the parents are together, the siblings apologize to each other (occasionally), etc. Every kid can use a comforting book like that, I think, to glimpse the past and view their own time through a new lens. (2) And it’s just that innocence that makes the tale so gripping: not every adult is trustworthy, in this book, even though the rule of the day says that they should be.

Other Notes: Someone mentioned that this book has some Christian mythology thrown in. To which I say, “Read book II and you’ll retract that statement.” Not that books I & II (the only two I’ve read, thus far) are anti-Christian—they are respectful toward the church. But their mythology, from what I can tell, is more what I would hesitantly label as “dualism”: two equal, “uncreated, antagonistic Powers, one good and the other bad” in which there is not “right” or “wrong,” but only “light” and “dark,” so pick a side. (The description of dualism is from page 4 of C. S. Lewis’s God in the Dock.) Even though the author harkens to the noble king Arthur of Christendom, this epic fight between good and evil dates back to a more pagan struggle. However, I do basically adore the good vs. evil theme in epic fantasies, whether the portrayal is “Christian” or not, and it is definitely one of the things I enjoyed about the first two books. I love to explore an author’s take on this theme.

Audiobook: Very good. I enjoyed both the audio and physical editions.

****4/5 Stars

                                CityofDreamingBooksCityofDreamingBooks2

About: Optimus Yarnspinner, a young dinosaur aspiring to authorly fame, has a problem. His writing mentor’s last wish was for him to travel to the far off city of Bookholm and find the author of a mysterious, unsigned manuscript. What’s a dinosaur to do? Off he goes, unwitting of the dangers awaiting him in Bookholm—and its underworld, the Catacombs. Published 2004 in Germany.

This book.

This. Book.

The City of Dreaming Books was translated from the German (and before that, from the “Zamonian,” as you will read!). I rarely read translations, but I’m so glad I read this one. A friend recommended it to me. In fact, she did one better: she bought a copy and gave it to me. So I knew it had to be something special.

And it is.

What I Loved: (1) The illustrations!!! Oh my. I LOVE illustrations and adult books rarely have them. They are absolutely delightful and done by the author himself. (2) The world of Zamonia, its city of Bookholm (doesn’t that just sound so German?) and the city’s underworld, aka the Catacombs. (3) The clever humor. There are several clever bookish jokes—including a subtle one that runs throughout the entire book—and they’re a lot of fun to discover.

This book is so completely unique, I guarantee you’ll never find another book like it. Unless it’s by Walter Moers, of course.

What I Didn’t Love: (1) The characters didn’t draw me in the way my five star reads must. Five star books must make me really care about or at least be interested by a character. Unfortunately, I never became invested in the main characters of this novel. Not to say that I didn’t grow fond of a few characters, but there was very little psychology or soul-searching (what I’ve heard termed “interiority,” in the writing biz), and I personally need that element if I’m going to adore a book. (2) The tension and pacing didn’t dazzle me, either. I loved the adventure, but without better pacing, tension or interiority to keep me hooked, it unrolled too slowly to keep me reading all night. The setting details slowed the plot waaaay down. (3) This book lacked the precise, poetic or lyrical prose that often contributes to a compelling atmosphere or mood (as in, say, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell or Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys quartet). This may be because the book is a translation (and I’m afraid this is one reason why I tend to avoid translations, although I’m sure this is an unfair tendency of mine that I should quash without mercy). However, I almost always find this device necessary in a five star read, and while the unique setting, illustrations and humor of this book lent it a certain atmosphere (one that I occasionally found delightful), the prose itself lacked the necessary care to compel me onward with continual delight, foreboding, intellectual interest, etc.

Recommendation: Even though this book wasn’t a five-star favorite of mine, I think it could be a five-star for a certain type of reader. It is very clever and well-written. I think it will probably appeal quite a bit to any booklover who is looking for a unique adventure and would score “thinking” over “feeling” on the Meyers-Briggs personality tests. You doesn’t even need to be a fantasy-lover to love it. This is a book for bookahalics, and the nods to book culture are everywhere! The bookaholic who recommended it to me isn’t a big fantasy reader and she told me it’s one of her all-time favorite books.

3.5/5 stars